Protecting Against STD/STIs: Barrier Method

Person stuff: I want to say thanks again to everyone who donated to help me fund my visit with my kids and to those who sent prayers/good wishes/thoughts our way. A very great time was had by all, including visiting family, hiking trips, museum trips, and catching a carnival.

Okay, back to our regular programming.

As I mentioned in my last post, the well-known refrain in STD/STI prevention is ‘barrier method’. Barrier method usually means a condom (male or female), which prevents direct contact between the genitals. For all their problems, condoms are the only effective method for actually stopping HIV and several other STD/STIs jumping from one person to another. What many people do not realize is that a cervical cap can also be an effective barrier method against certain STD/STIs. Every other method for preventing STD/STIs is basically about making sure no one you are having sex with has any STD/STIs.


Condoms do not protect against all STD/STIs. They do not protect 100% against the STD/STIs they are effective against. However, they are probably the best thing going. Male condoms and female condoms off different levels of protection against different STD/STIs. The protection offered by male condoms has been more thorough studied, so consider the information on female condoms incomplete pending further research.

Male Condoms

Male condoms are usually made of latex, though there are non-latex varieties for people with latex allergies. They go on over the penis and trap semen. They also prevent direct contact between the penis and the vagina, anus or mouth during intercourse. (Yes, condoms should be used during oral sex as well if there is any chance one of you has an STD/STI.) Here is a decent step-by-step guide to putting on a male condom.

Male condoms provide protection against:

  • HIV
  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhea
  • trichomoniasis
  • HPV

Depending on where the infection is, male condoms may provide protection against:

  • genital herpes
  • syphilis
  • chancroid

The CDC has the following advise for using condoms:

  • Use a new condom with each sex act (i.e., oral, vaginal, and anal).
  • Carefully handle the condom to avoid damaging it with fingernails, teeth, or other sharp objects.
  • Put the condom on after the penis is erect and before any genital, oral, or anal contact with the partner.
  • Use only water-based lubricants (e.g., K-Y Jelly, Astroglide, AquaLube, and glycerin) with latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants (e.g., petroleum jelly, shortening, mineral oil, massage oils, body lotions, and cooking oil) can weaken latex and should not be used.
  • Ensure adequate lubrication during vaginal and anal sex, which might require the use of exogenous water-based lubricants.
  • To prevent the condom from slipping off, hold the condom firmly against the base of the penis during withdrawal, and withdraw while the penis is still erect.

Note – natural condoms (those made from natural membranes) are not effective in preventing STD/STIs.

Female Condoms

Female condoms are made of nitrile, and are inserted into the vagina. A ring at the base of the condom keeps it in place by the cervix. Female condoms flare at the top, covering part or all of the labia. The best guide I’ve been able to find to using female condoms is here. If you know of a better one, please let me know. Female condoms should be used in the same circumstances as male condoms, but female and male condoms should never be used together – the friction will cause one or both to break.

Female condoms protect against:

  • HIV
  • STD/STIs caused by viruses

Female condoms cover a wider area than male condoms, and so may provide better protection against:

  • genital herpes
  • syphilis
  • chancroid

Except for the bit about removing the condom, the guidelines from the CDC above apply equally to female condoms.


Cervical diaphragms are caps that are placed over the cervix, so that semen cannot enter the uterus. Unlike condoms, cervical diaphragms are reusable and can last up to two years. Most information sources will say the diaphragms do not protect against STD/STIs. This is partly true – diaphragms do not protect against the STD/STIs that every one worries about. (Sources: 1, 2)

Cervical Diaphragms do provide some protection against:

  • cervical gonorrhea
  • chlamydia
  • trichomoniasis

Diaphragms may be confused with cervical caps. Cervical caps are smaller than diaphragms, and I have not be able to find information on whether or not they provide similar protection. I would assume they don’t at this time.

It is worth noting that diaphragms definitely do NOT provide protection against HIV.

Do you use a barrier method for STD/STI protection? Please leave a comment on how your polycule uses barrier methods and your thoughts/feelings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.